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Aerotropolis shrinking

Dec 01, 2008

City officials have backed down on a key part of their dispute with the provincial government over the size of the proposed airport employment growth. The move appears to reduce the planned 3000-acre aerotropolis by thirty percent, and with face-to-face talks scheduled for today between the two governments, even more cuts may be in the offing.

The chief city representative says he’s now looking for a negotiated settlement on the other provincial challenges to the amount of farmland the city will be allowed to industrialize around the airport. The two governments have been at loggerheads for over a year over several assumptions made by city consultants when they calculated how large the aerotropolis should be.

The largest piece in that dispute has been how much job growth the city is allowed to plan for by 2031. City numbers have been 10,000 higher than the amount allocated to Hamilton by the provincial growth plan, but that position has now been abandoned by the city’s general manager of economic development and planning, Tim McCabe.

“We wanted 59,000, but schedule 3 of Places to Grow is 49,000.” McCabe told councillors on November 27. “They’re not going to give into it, so we’re not going to press that matter.”

Predicted job growth is the basic piece in the calculations of how much land the city will be allowed to urbanize and it affects most of the other areas of contention with the province. City consultants had allocated about 26,000 jobs to existing business parks and the remaining 33,000 to the aerotropolis.

The 10,000 cut will come entirely from the aerotropolis land budget and thus represents a 30 percent reduction – a decline of over 900 acres. There are unresolved disputes over several other calculation methods being used by the city to bolster its claimed land need.

These include increasing the acreage by 10 percent to account for lands expected to remain unused, by another 10 percent to allow for non-industrial uses, and by a further 20 percent for major roads, stormwater facilities, hydro corridors and buffers that can’t be developed. 

It’s possible that the growth district could shrink to a quarter of the size approved by council last June, or even by abandoned entirely. The province is pressing for at least some of the job growth to be located on existing industrial lands, such as along the bayfront.

In June, McCabe had advised council to “stay the course” and prepare for an Ontario Municipal Board fight with the province, but he’s now advising against that approach.

“I don’t want to see us get into a fight with the province on this,” he said on Thursday. “It’s just not going to get us anywhere.”

That echoed the view expressed earlier in the meeting by Brad Clark, who described some of the recent actions of the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, George Smitherman, and warned councillors that the minister is not one to back down.

“There will be no wavering from Minister Smitherman,” he declared. “So if we think we can somehow argue our way out of it, or finesse our way out of it, it’s not going to happen. We have to work with the province, with their policies, and get on with these things.”

Clark read from a recent Smitherman speech in which the Minister – who is also deputy premier in the McGuinty government – made clear that provincial funding over the next decade will go to municipalities who conform to the provincial anti-sprawl legislation and objectives.

“He’s stating very unequivocally that if we don’t meet Growth Plans, if we don’t meet their policies, our infrastructure funding will be directly tied to that,” said Clark. “We have to be categorically clear that the response from the government will not just necessarily be yes or no to something, it will be no funding, or minimal funding.”

McCabe remains hopeful that provincial officials will bend on some of the other issues at dispute.

“They’re digging in very tough on the Places to Grow,” he agreed, “but their quote last week was they’re also going to show goodwill and willingness with respect to some of the other matters that are at issue, that are not in the legislation, that we’re having problems with. So I’m hoping that we’re going to come to an agreement.”

McCabe is scheduled to meet today in Hamilton with Smitherman’s senior staff representive, Brad Graham, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Energy and Infrastructure.

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